“Dr. Sword, there’s a new patient in the R wing waiting for you,” the receptionist at work told me one morning when I walked into the hospital for my shift. I gave her a strange look. The R wing? That didn’t make any sense. She must have made a mistake somehow. She was new here, it was bound to happen. I decided not to be a jerk about it to her, but still had to point out the error.
“The R wing? Are you sure that’s right? I think you might have made a mistake with that, Ellie,” I told her as nicely as I could with a smile to show her I wasn’t about to rip her head off like some of the doctors around here liked to do. I swear some of them think they’re the Sea Gods and walk around the hospital expecting anyone who’s not a doctor to bow down to them. I’m not like that. I’m a knowledgeable medical professional but I’m human and I make mistakes sometimes like anyone else. Why should it be okay for me to make errors but not anyone else? “Could you check the info again please?”
“Um, sure, Dr. Sword, but I’m sure I didn’t make a mistake,” Ellie frowned, going over everything again. She shook her head. “No. No mistake, Dr. Sword. You’ve been assigned to room R013.” That was even more confusing. What was up with the hospital today?
“But the R wing is the children’s ward. I’m an obstetrician. I work in the maternity ward… and 013? Are you positive? 013 is in the basement. We haven’t used those rooms in years. Aren’t we storing Dr. Parks’ Plumbots in the basement? She would have told me if they had to be moved.” Ellie just shrugged, looking apologetic.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Sword. I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything about the Plumbots being moved but these are the instructions I was given to assign you.” I was still sure that something had to have gotten lost in translation but I didn’t want to give Ellie a harder time about it. She obviously didn’t know anything else about the strange room assignment. My best option was just to go down there, see that there was no patient in room R013 and report back to the desk for a new patient to treat in the maternity ward.
“Alright. Thank you Ellie. Sorry for the trouble,” I apologised and headed down to the old basement of the children’s ward, shaking my head.
I walked to room R013, passing empty room upon empty room with nothing but Plumbot charging stations inside them, some of them containing a recharging Plumbot on its break. They kept the basement pretty clean but it still had that abandoned feeling to it that creeped me out a little bit. Probably because it was so quiet compared to the rest of the hospital. A quiet hospital was always eerie. I pushed past the uneasy feeling anyway and made my way to the door of room R013, not expecting to find anyone inside but to my shock, room R013 was occupied!
“…. What? Why is she even down here at all?” I muttered under my breath as I caught sight of the little girl sitting on her bed through the glass window. She had her file in the medical records slot on her door. I pulled it out and leafed through it as I walked in, trying to get a better understanding of who she was and what she needed treatment for. The girl jumped as soon as I opened the door and scuttled away from me on her bed like I was some sort of terrifying phantom. Being a dad myself, I immediately sympathised with her and softened my professionalism. Professionalism was good with adults but it tended to intimidate children and this poor girl looked terrified of me. I noticed (with another dose of confusion) that her name was listed as Jane Doe on her file. But she’s alive. How can they not know her identity? I hadn’t been at work for an hour yet and the day just kept getting stranger and stranger. Well at least finding out her name was a good place to start building her trust. I smiled warmly.
“It’s alright, I’m not here to hurt you,” I assured her.
“They all say that but they lie…” she whispered, hugging her knees. This girl was very sick. I didn’t even need to look at her file to be able to tell. She had stark white hair and skin so pale it was almost translucent. There was bruising on her, no doubt from very minor bumps that wouldn’t have left a mark on a normal healthy child but left her skin black and blue. Her eyes were a bloodshot red. I looked through her file again and saw what I had diagnosed in my head already. A strong form of albinism coupled with severe anemia, a life-threatening allergy to sunlight and… Syndrome X disease?! That was impossible. There was only one other human being in known history to be diagnosed with that specific disease. Brooke Greenberg. Her case had been so rare that the doctors had to create a new disease to diagnose her with and even then, they had no idea what to call it so she had become the only known person diagnosed with simply “Syndrome X.” Now, somehow, incredibly, I was standing in front of the second known sufferer of Syndrome X. I know as a doctor, I should have been thrilled to get the opportunity to work with a patient with such a rare growth disorder, but I couldn’t feel the least bit of joy at a child’s suffering. I just felt sad for her.
“Well I’m not lying,” I promised her, keeping my voice gentle. “I’m Dr. Sword, but if it’s less scary for you, you can call me Seb,” I introduced myself. “Can you tell me your name?” The girl shrugged.
“I don’t know. I don’t have one. No one ever gave me one,” she murmured quietly. None of this made any sense. She must have parents or some kind of caretaker who would have named her. Why didn’t she have any kind of identity? I know I shouldn’t have, but I forgot about being a doctor for a little while and sat on the edge of her bed.
“It’s not much fun not having a name, is it?” I asked her softly. She shook her head, her red eyes watering. “Well I’d like to be able to call you something. Can I give you a name?” I asked her.
“… What do you want to name me?” she asked. I shrugged.
“Are there any names you like?” I asked her. She shook her head.
“No. You can pick.” I already knew exactly what her name should be.
“I think I’d like to call you Hope,” I told her. “What do you think?” She gave a faint smile that faded away quickly.
“Hope’s good,” she said.
“Yeah, it is,” I agreed.
I scanned the rest of her file and did my usual routine of checking her vitals and ensuring the equipment she was hooked up to was operating properly. She had an IV drip that was replenishing her blood and a heart monitor that displayed her heart rate. It was strangely slow for a child her age and I made a note of it in her file, planning on looking into that more. Otherwise, she didn’t seem to need any specific or urgent care from me so why had I been pulled off the maternity ward to see to her? The hospital had plenty of blood disease specialists and pediatricians who were likely more knowledgeable about her condition than I was. It didn’t make sense to send an obstetrician to do the job a pediatrician could do more easily. Nothing about Hope made any sense at all. I started to get that uncomfortable crawling feeling again that told me something here wasn’t right but I didn’t want to alarm Hope. She was already frightened as it was. I just smiled and tucked her under the bed covers. “Well everything looks okay, Hope. Why don’t you sleep for a while?” I suggested. “I’ll send a nurse to your room to make sure there’s food waiting for you when you wake up.”
“It’s okay. I don’t eat,” Hope mumbled, her eyelids drooping as I shut off her bedside lamp. I frowned but shook my head, passing it off as just some kind of complaint about hospital food or something. Nobody liked hospital food.
Hope was asleep before I even left the room. I slipped out quietly, not wanting to disturb her but as I went to tuck her file back into its slot on her door I noticed a name I recognised scrawled in impossibly neat cursive on a list of doctors overseeing Hope’s care and treatment.
Dr. Ruby Parks.
I’d recognise her signature anywhere. She was my best friend. I’d known her for almost ten years now. Why was Ruby looking after a patient? She was a scientist, not a medical doctor. She worked with Plumbots; machines and artificial intelligence. She was brilliant at what she did but I wouldn’t consider her qualified to provide treatment to anyone not made out of metal, gears and electrical circuits.
“Ruby, what’s going on here?” I muttered under my breath.